Many Fortune 1000 boards lack Asian or Pacific Islander representation

API board representation has improved since 2020 but remains low, a report shows.

Published April 19, 2024

More than half of Fortune 1000 boards lacked a single Asian board member in 2023, according to an April 17 report from Ascend, a global group working to advance Asian and Pacific Islander inclusion in the workplace, and advisory firm KPMG LLP.

Although the overall percentage of board seats held by API executives sits at 6.9%, it’s higher than in 2020, when it was 4.1%. In the report, API includes those who trace their ancestry to the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa and the Pacific Island regions.

“In the past ten years alone, we’ve made visible strides in terms of awareness, but when we look at the top positions, like board seats and the C-suite, we see Pan-Asian presence drop dramatically,” Anna Mok, president of Ascend, said in a statement. “Companies still have a long way to go to harness the potential of their API workforce and the market.”

In 2020, Ascend and the KPMG Board Leadership Center launched a study of API directors on public Fortune 1000 boards. So far, they’ve found that 46% of Fortune 1000 boards included an API board member in 2023, which is up from 31% in 2020.

The report said representation remains important as Asians comprise a fast-growing demographic in the U.S. To that end, companies should develop and advance API talent in C-suites and corporate boardrooms, the report authors recommended.

“As business leaders develop their strategies and work to attract and retain talent, customers, and suppliers to drive growth, it is imperative that there are diverse voices in the boardroom,” Susan Angele, senior advisor of the KPMG Board Leadership Center, said in a statement. “The API community offers important lenses on business and a large pool of boardroom talent.”

Stereotypes contribute to underrepresentation of East Asian workers in leadership roles, according to an MIT study. Despite educational and economic achievements in the U.S., East Asian workers often face barriers to leadership attainment, resulting in a “bamboo ceiling,” the study said.

Asian American creative executives have voiced concerns about barriers to career entry and advancement, according to a report from the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and The Asian American Foundation. The leaders called their identity a “double-edged sword,” where they felt tokenized and seen as diversity hires.

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API workers also report the highest likelihood of negative effects on their performance reviews due to their supervisor’s personal bias, according to a Syndio survey. Leaders can reduce the perception of bias and support employees by creating a culture of consistent feedback with more frequent check-ins, fostering psychological safety during reviews and providing greater clarity about advancement opportunities.

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